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Lincoln–Douglas debates

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Composite image from portrait photographs of Abraham Lincoln (1860) and Stephen A. Douglas (1859)
Composite image from portrait photographs of Abraham Lincoln (1860) and Stephen A. Douglas (1859)

The Lincoln–Douglas debates (also known as The Great Debates of 1858) were a series of seven debates between Abraham Lincoln, the Republican Party candidate for the United States Senate from Illinois, and incumbent Senator Stephen Douglas, the Democratic Party candidate. At the time, senators were elected by state legislatures, so Lincoln and Douglas were trying to win control of the Illinois General Assembly for their respective parties. The debates were widely reported on nationally, using the newly-invented telegraph. They previewed the issues that Lincoln later faced after his victory in the 1860 presidential election. Illinois was a free state, and the main issue discussed in all seven debates was slavery in the United States, particularly its future expansion into new territories.

Lincoln and Douglas decided to hold one debate in each of the nine congressional districts in Illinois. Both candidates had already spoken in Springfield and Chicago within a day of each other, so they decided that their joint appearances would be held in the remaining seven districts. The debates in Freeport, Quincy, and Alton drew especially large numbers of people from neighboring states, as the issue of slavery was of monumental importance to citizens throughout the nation.[1][2] Newspaper coverage was intense during the debates. Major papers from Chicago sent stenographers to create complete texts of each debate, which newspapers reprinted in full throughout the country, some with partisan edits. Newspapers that supported Douglas edited his speeches to remove any errors made by the stenographers and to correct grammatical errors, while they left Lincoln's speeches in the rough form in which they had been transcribed. In the same way, pro-Lincoln papers edited Lincoln's speeches, but left the Douglas texts as reported.

Lincoln edited the texts of all the debates and had them published in a book.[3] The widespread coverage of the debates and the popularity of the book helped lead to Lincoln's nomination for president by the 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago.

The format for each debate was that one candidate spoke for 60 minutes, then the other candidate spoke for 90 minutes, and then the first candidate was allowed a 30-minute rejoinder. The candidates alternated speaking first. As the incumbent, Douglas spoke first in four of the debates.

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Welcome back, everyone. Very glad to see everybody here today. Of course, it's Presidents' Day weekend. So we have a fitting and appropriate Presidents' Day topic today. So I'm just going to adjust my mic here. We'll be delving into Abraham Lincoln, our nation's 16th president. Now our theme for our winter lecture series this year is Turning Points, and we're going to be looking at one of the major turning points in Lincoln's life and in his political career today, and we have quite a bit of ground the cover. So we're going to go ahead and dive right into it here. Typically, when we think of Abraham Lincoln here at Gettysburg, this is the face that we envision. This is the Lincoln that we reference. Lincoln's visit here, November 19th of 1863, really, with the eyes of history on him, on the stage where he is the Commander-in-Chief, is attempting to lead the nation through this terrible Civil War, taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans. The nation really debating what it is going to be going forward, what freedom is in the United States going forward. This major struggle with Lincoln himself at the center of it, catapulting him to be, perhaps, our most famous, and I would say, definitely, our greatest president. Well, it's interesting to think that five years before Lincoln stood here at Gettysburg, he was speaking about some of the same things that he spoke about here. Five years before Lincoln came to Gettysburg to deliver his famed Gettysburg address, he was in the political fight of his life in Illinois. His face here doesn't yet have those famous whiskers yet. He's not yet aged by the stresses of war. This is a man who is fighting against a political giant, Stephen Douglas. He is in the fight of his life in more ways than one, and he and Douglas are engaged in a series of seven debates across the state of Illinois in the midst of a particularly bitter and partisan campaign for an Illinois Senate seat. These debates centered on the institution of slavery and freedom in the United States. And it's interesting that Illinois is not a slave state, and yet, this is the stage for some of the most poignant debates over slavery and freedom in the United States that occurred. Last weekend, you heard my friend and colleague, John Hoptak, speak about the Compromise of 1850, and how that was such a major event, a pivotal turning point in the eventual more towards civil war that occurred. I would say the Lincoln-Douglas debates are as similar turning point, that they helped to frame the issues that are eventually at stake here in this civil war. They framed this major argument, as it would later emerge, but they're also a major turning point in that these debates catapult Abraham Lincoln from a state politician in Illinois to a national leader on these issues. The debates are published in newspapers across the country. They garner attention. Lincoln's name shoots upwards and, of course, two years later, he and Douglas end up squaring off again. But for now, let's examine the events of 1858, these famous debates between Lincoln and Douglas and some of the issues they discussed. Befor the debates, Abraham Lincoln really had had a ton of success in his professional career. We don't really need to do the whole background and bio on Abraham Lincoln. A man like him is so well-known and so famous. So I just have a few events listed here. You'll notice that he does have some political successes. He was a member of the Illinois State Legislature for a while. He served one term in Congress, being elected in 1846, famously opposing the Mexican war during his one congressional term, but this is a guy who suffered far more political defeats that he's had political successes. And we will find, especially in the life of Lincoln, it's true with so many historical figures, that failure ultimately breeds success. And personally, as a fan of the Cleveland Indians, I have no choice but to believe that. [ Laughter ] I always have to have one good joke in upfront. By the early 1850s, Lincoln's political ambitions had been tempered, possibly for good. He had returned to his legal practice after his time in Congress, and it really didn't look like he was going to reemerge as a figure in the national debate over freedom and slavery. But slavery was very important for Lincoln during his political career and important for him personally. We can take his comments on slavery as being tepid or lukewarm today, because he didn't boldly call for outright abolition during the 1850s, but the context of his time, as we're going to see, as we go forward is very important, especially the context of Illinois in the 1850s. But his position on slavery was the same as the nascent Republican Party. Stop the westward spread of slavery. Return to the idea that the founding fathers had of restricting the spread of slavery, simply keeping it as a necessary evil that would hopefully die out, and that's one of the things we're going to visit from time to time, Lincoln's thoughts on this. Perhaps his most poignant quote on slavery is from a short fragment that he wrote right before these famous debates with Stephen Douglas in 1858 in August, is "I would not be a slave. So I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this to the extent of the difference is not democracy." Well, of course, for United States in the 19th century, slavery was inextricably tied to the westward expansion of the country. Every single time new territories were acquired, every single time a new state was being considered, the question was is this new territory or state going to be slave or free? The Missouri Compromise of 1820 had settled the issue for several decades, at least a tenuous compromise holding things together for several decades, establishing this line here, 36 30 line as a demarcation point, essentially saying the territories north of this line, no slavery in those territories. Territory south of it are, indeed, open for slavery. Another trade-off is Missouri was added as a slave state, Maine added as a free state, and for over 30 years, this compromise held things together. Not always well. There was still tensions and violence and bloodshed, in many cases, over slavery as it expands, but it held things together until the principle of the Missouri Compromise was overrun by this idea of popular sovereignty. Popular sovereignty was introduced with the Kansas-Nebraska Act. It was codified into law with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, introduced, essentially, to help settle some of these territories quicker, so that a transcontinental railroad could expand westward. This Kansas-Nebraska Act was a major political earthquake moment that realigned the tectonic plates of American politics, shattering the old party system and creating a new Republican Party, which was basically an amalgamation of different political groups that were all opposed to the westward spread of slavery. So the Kansas-Nebraska Act pictured here overruns this idea of the Missouri Compromise and the new ruling God for the westward spread of slavery, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act was introduced onto the national scene by none other than Stephen Douglas. Stephen Douglas, born in Vermont in 1813. His father was a physician who died when Douglas was not one year old. He was a cabinet-making apprentice as a teenager, moved to New York in 1830. He taught school and studied law, eventually moved to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1833 and then westward onto Illinois. It's not necessarily the back story you'd expect from someone who was eventually considered the inevitable nominee of a major political party for the presidency of the United States. In 1847 when Douglas married Martha Martin, he inherited, through Martha, a prominent slaveholding plantation in Mississippi, a 2500-acre plantation with 100 slaves, and though Douglas himself never personally managed it, he had a property manager manage it for him, he, himself was involved personally and politically, professionally, with the institution of slavery. He rose in the Illinois Democratic Party in the 1830s, was a state attorney, an Illinois House representative, a registrar of the Springfield Land Office, the Illinois Secretary of State, and in 1841, an Associate Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court at the age of 27. He's a fast-rising figure, and for those who might be curious, if you've ever read the text of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln constantly refers to Douglas not as Senator Douglas but as Judge Douglas. That's because of his status on the Illinois Supreme Court. Douglas was elected to the U.S. House in 1843, elected to the United States Senate in 1846, and he's a major proponent of compromise and that compromise of 1850. When the initial omnibus compromise bill fails, Douglas helps to push these various compromise measures through on their own, inevitably achieving this compromise effect. Not to dive too much into the details of last week's lecture, but Douglas is a big, major figure on the national scene by the early 1850s, and Kansas-Nebraska helps to solidify his front status in the Democratic Party. And Lincoln and Douglas, they, too, have their own backstory, as well, even though they're very different men in different ways. They had first met in the state legislature in 1834, and Lincoln had voted against Douglas for state attorney in 1835. They found themselves on opposite sides of multiple different political campaigns. Sometimes Lincoln, in fact, would speak after Douglas when he was given a prominent speech in one of his campaigns, foreshadowing things that would come later on, and Lincoln set of Douglas, "Of all the men he has seen, he has the most audacity in maintaining an untenable position." But the Kansas Nebraska Act so deeply upsets Lincoln, that it essentially revives his political career, and it places him on the national stage once again, and in 1854, he gives a speech in Peoria, Illinois, known as the Peoria Speech about the Kansas-Nebraska Act and this reopening of territories to the institution of slavery, and I have here a quote from it, which is very important. "This declared indifference, but as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our Republican example of it's just influence in the world, and enables the enemies of free institutions with plausibility to that to us as hypocrites, causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty." Criticizing the Declaration of Independence and insisting that there is no right principle of action, but self-interest." I find it interesting when I hear argument that Lincoln never cared about slavery one where the other, when reading his speeches makes clear that he feels strongly and passionately on this issue. Lincoln is saying that by opening up these territories to slavery, we're saying it doesn't matter if it spreads or not, which is counter to the Founding Father's wishes. That would become a central argument of his later. Another major event leading up to these debates, the Dred Scott case, handed down in 1857. Dred Scott, here a slave had been brought into free territories, free states, sued for his status as a free man. The Supreme Court of the United States, led by Chief Justice, Roger Taney, said that Dred Scott, as a black man, had no standing to sue for his rights. He was not a citizen of the United States. And saying that Congress had no authority had no authority to pass any laws restricting the spread of slavery into Western territories, essentially declaring the Missouri compromise of 1820 unconstitutional. This decision helped to add more gasoline to the burning fire of sectional tension over slavery in the late 1850s. There's a lot of background story here that we have to cover for the debates themselves to make sense, but essentially, the debates occur in a highly volatile time, a result of all these different events. Added into the mix, as well, is the Lecompton Constitution. This occurs around the same time as Dred Scott. Essentially, after Kansas-Nebraska had opened up these territories to the westward spread of slavery, Kansas becomes a battleground in this fight, literally a battleground with pro-and anti-slavery forces hoping to establish a foothold and establish Kansas as a free or slave state. Well, this Constitution was one of four different drafts that were eventually submitted, and it was a constitution submitted by the proslavery forces. It was fraudulently claiming that Kansas would be a slave state, which was counter to the wishes of the people of Kansas, who when it came to a popular vote, overwhelmingly voted down this constitution. Well, this proslavery Constitution was supported by President Buchanan, and it was supported by Southern Democrats. It was opposed by Senator Douglas and opposed by Northern Democrats. So now the splits getting worse. This would have a major bearing on Douglas's own standing in his party, as it came to 1858 and this crucial Senate race for Douglas to be reelected to his Senate seat in the state of Illinois. Now he's going to encounter some resistance from his own Democratic Party. The background to this race in 1858 Illinois, pictured here in this railroad map from the same year. In 1854, Lincoln had made a serious run at the Senate. For a cerebral man like Lincoln, he thought a Senate seat would be the perfect place for him. He said, "I would rather have a full term in the Senate than any other office." He also wrote in 1854, "I have really got it in my head to be a United States senator." Well, of course, Lincoln didn't end up getting the nod from Republicans for the Senate seat in 1854, but he would try again, and when he's emerging as a figure, a leading candidate for the seat in 1858, he's dealing with a lot of different problems, one of which is that the Republican Party is only a few years old. It hasn't had a whole lot of time to establish a state system yet. It doesn't have a whole lot of officeholders throughout the state. So is working on things like patronage, things that help sway and influence political campaigns. It's also a very fractioned party. All these different elements are coming together, only kind of held together by this idea that they don't want the westward spread of slavery. So Lincoln has to find a way to speak to all sorts of different groups with different interests and attitudes, if he wants to represent the Republicans in 1858. And of course, Douglas, as a candidate, leading into the election, he is a giant figure in the Senate, though small in stature, of course. But Douglas is a leading candidate, but as I noted, there are fractions within the Democratic Party that are going to make it difficult for him to run, as well. And in Illinois politics in 1858, they have to focus on different sections of the state. Up top here, the northern sections, these are districts in the Senate or in the Illinois House, which lean Republican. These are going to be Lincoln's stronghold, if he ends up campaigning for the Senate. Down here, the white districts, they are Democratic strongholds. Really, the key to the Senate race in 1858 is going to be the central part of the state, and several of the debates between Lincoln and Douglas take place here in these areas that are composed of a mixture of political influences, but mostly, they are members of the old Whig Party, a lot of folks who think that Henry Clay was just the absolute best. These are going to be the people who ultimately decide the 1858 election. But there's one other very important thing we need to know before we dive into the Lincoln-Douglas debates in the campaign itself, and that is the state of race in Illinois in 1858. This is not a slaveholding state. Yet, it is one of the most unfriendly states for African Americans in the United States. Illinois had a small African-American population, just over 5000, according to the 1850 census, but through the years, there have been various laws passed severely restricting the rights of blacks in Illinois, and let's not forget, in 1837, there was a mob that attacked the newspaper press of abolitionist, Elijah Lovejoy, and he was eventually killed in this melee that happened, and this happens in one of the towns in Alton, Illinois, where the seventh and final one of these debates occurs. In 1853, legislation was passed making it a crime to bring a free black man to the state of Illinois, where you would be subject to a fine and possibly imprisonment. Frederick Douglass said this of the people of Illinois in 1858. "What kind of people are the people of Illinois? Were they born and nursed of women, as other people are? Or are they the offspring of wolves and tigers and only that to prey upon all flesh pleasing to their bloody taste? If they are members of the human family, by what spirit are the animated? Is it from heaven, or is it from hell?" This is a very hostile racial environment that these debates will be taking place in, talking about things like race, citizenship, and freedom in the United States, and you absolutely cannot understand the statements of either one of these candidates throughout the campaign without understanding that very important factors. The Chicago times, a Democratic paper, I wrote in 1858 that Illinois was, "Known all over the union as a state where white people are absolute and supreme." That was the Chicago Times. Lincoln was, "An advocate of Negro equality and Negro citizenship." A vote for Republicans would mean that Illinois would become, "the Negro state." This is the back drop for the 1858 campaign. Now because Douglas had been at odds with the Buchanan administration, there were some Republicans who thought, hey, this is a guy who opposes the sitting Democratic president. What if we can get him to flip parties and represent us in the Senate? This is an obstacle that Lincoln has to encounter. As a means to ensure against this step, Lincoln and his allies have the state Republican convention in June of 1858 take the unusual step of actually formally nominating him as their choice to run for the Senate seat that year. Typically, these conventions were just to coalesce the party doctrine, Lincoln is proclaimed the actual Senate candidate in June 1858, and at this convention, he gives one of the most famous speeches of his entire career, a speech that would be used against him quite a bit in the political campaign that fall. I'm sure a lot of folks are familiar with this speech that Lincoln lays out. A central message upfront in the speech, "A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the union to be dissolved. I do not expect the house to fall, but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or another. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction or its advocates will push it forward until it shall become alike lawful in all the states, old as well as new, North as well as South. Have we no tendency to the latter condition?" So what's in Lincoln actually saying here? Lincoln is saying that thanks to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, open up territory to the expansion of slavery based on popular sovereignty, whether the people of those territories wanted. Based on the Dred Scott decision, which said that Congress could not prevent the westward spread of slavery into territories, a decision endorsed by the Buchanan administration that there was a Democratic conspiracy to nationalize slavery, even into free states. Lincoln would argue all it takes is one more Supreme Court decision, saying that there's no way Congress can say slavery can't exist in free states to make all of the states in the union officially slave states, and he says right at the center of this national conspiracy is none other than sitting United States Senator, the man behind the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and his political opponent, Stephen Douglas. This speech, the house divided speech, is the opening salvo of this Senate campaign. It is one of Lincoln's most eloquent, and it introduces a central theme that this nation cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. Is that Lincoln predicting Civil War? Well, I don't know if he's predicting it, but he is saying that one way or the other this issue is going to be settled going forward. It's rather a dramatic start to the campaign. Stephen Douglas himself kicks off his campaign on July 9, 1858, in Chicago, Illinois, where he arrived to a 150-gun salute, and that evening, he had really planned on giving formal remarks, but he stepped out onto a balcony at the Tremont hotel, and he delivered a speech. "If there is any principal dearer and more sacred than all others in free government, it is that which asserts the right of every people to form and adopt to their own fundamental laws and to manage and regulate their own internal affairs and domestic institutions. Throughout this campaign, Douglas painted himself as the one who was defending the pure idea of democracy. Democracy as a basic mechanical process, 51% majority rule, they get to decide their laws. That is how it works." Douglas argued that his vision of democracy was the true vision of American democracy. He blasted Lincoln's speech as stirring up strife trying to foment insurrection, and he blasted Lincoln for claiming that blacks were equal to whites, saying, "I'm free to say to you that in my opinion, this government of ours is founded on the white basis. It was made by the white man for the benefit of the white man to be administered by white men in such manner as they should determine it." That's pretty much a foundational principle of Douglas's 1858 the campaign. This is a government for white men by white men. African-Americans were never intended to be included in this idea of American democracy, according to Stephen Douglas. The same position that Roger Taney laid out in the Dred Scott decision. Well, and the crowd that night, there is this tall lawyer, Abraham Lincoln, listening to Douglas's remarks. So Lincoln decided I'm going to speak tomorrow night on that same hotel balcony, and this starts a pattern where for several weeks Lincoln is literally just following Douglas around the state speaking right after him. It'd be like if John Hoptak decided to do a lecture right after mine here. [ Laughter ] It'd be far superior to mine, I'm sure. But the next night, Lincoln caught up on the same balcony. He had a few thousand fewer in the crowd that night. Douglas had about maybe 20,000. Lincoln had 9000 in attendance, and he attacked Douglas's speech. He attacked what Douglas had to say. And it was a pretty bold speech given the current climate of Illinois 1958. He defended his own house divided speech, and he argued that slavery was morally wrong, and that blacks and whites were equal in natural law. "I have always hated slavery, I think, as much as any abolitionist. I have been an old-line Whig. I have always hated it but have always been quiet about it until this new era of the introduction of the Nebraska bill." He said towards the end of the speech, "My friends, let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man, this race and that race and the other race being inferior, and therefore, they must be placed in an inferior position, discarding our standard that we have left us. Let us discard all these things and unite as one people throughout this land until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal." Pretty bold speech for 1858 Illinois. And again, this is developing a pattern where Lincoln, for several weeks, is following Douglas around the state. The discussions are centering entirely around slavery and popular sovereignty. The idea of who is a citizen and what is freedom in this country. Now the state Republicans in Illinois saw this, and they thought, well, we would like to have a little bit closer rein in over what Lincoln is saying in response to Douglas, and we don't want it to look like he's this little puppy dog following Douglas around the state. So let's go ahead and reach out to Douglas directly and see if we can negotiate some sort of a shared campaign schedule where they're going to make official joint appearances on the same stage together. Lincoln reaches out to Douglas asking him if he would be interested in these joint appearances, and Douglas, he's not really thrilled about this idea. Stephen Douglas is a national figure. Lincoln is a state figure. If they're on the same stage together, who stands to benefit the most from that? Abraham Lincoln, right? But if Douglas dodges this, how's that going to look? This giant in the Senate is scared to debate this Senate candidate in Illinois? No-no-no. So Douglas agrees to do seven debates. The two candidates had already spoken in two of the nine areas, two of the nine congressional districts, so these are going to cover the other seven, and I'm going to use this map for a lot of the program here showing where these debates are scattered throughout the state of Illinois, and the format was not one guy speaks for two minutes, and then there's a green light or red light, and the other guy speaks for two minutes, and there's a red light, and then Jim Lair [assumed spelling] asks another question. That's not how this works. These are actual debates. They're actually covering issues and ideas, not 20-second sound bites. The leading candidate, Douglas is the sitting senator. So he gets to lead off in four of the seven. The leading candidate will do a 60-minute introduction. Then there's a 90-minute response, followed by a 30-minute rebuttal. Thankfully, we don't have our lectures structured that way. You're not going to be here for three hours, I don't think, but that's the format that is agreed to for these debates, 60-minute introduction, 90-minute response, 30-minute rebuttal. And you can see here, they're scattered all across the state geographically, and remember that map that we saw. The northern part of the state, heavy Republican. Southern part of the state, heavy Democrat, middle part, ah, those are the counties that really matter the most. And these debates are going to be printed in newspapers, as I noted earlier. There are reporters transcribing them with shorthand notations. So within 24 hours, they were being printed by papers in Chicago. Within 36 hours, people all across the country are reading the words of these debates. So these candidates are going to use these debates as a means for spreading their message far and wide, and that is going to be huge, especially for the career of Abraham Lincoln. Now the two candidates together on stage would kind of create an odd sight. Notice how I arranged the pictures here. Two distinctly different speaking styles, two distinctly different statures. One onlooker said, "I have never seen in the other two public men appearing on the same platform so unalike." Lincoln was tall, lanky, and awkward. Douglas was short and stout and full of passion. He spoke with much quicker rate of speed, about 125 words a minute, as opposed to Lincoln's 100 words a minute. He had a voice like the roar of a lion, according to Carl Schurz. And in the lead up to the first debate, these candidates are campaigning, and they are campaigning in between the debates themselves, as well. They're honing their message, and for Douglas, a big part of that is race-based attacks against Lincoln, saying that this is a man who if he has his way, African-Americans are going to be citizens. They're going to be candidates for public office in Illinois. He is a black Republican candidate. Some of the slogans used by the Democrats were "Beware the advocates of Negro equality" and "Fight and overthrow the black Republican Party." Another thing to note for Lincoln, on top of taking on one of the most famous senators of the country, he still has to deal with his legal practice. So he's juggling a lot. The first debate, August 21st of 1858 in Ottawa, Illinois. Ten to 12,000 people were present, and the debate started at 2:30 in the afternoon. Keep in mind, Douglas is the main draw here. He's much more notable than Lincoln, much more famous. So he's the guy bringing out a lot of these big crowds, especially early on. A lot of reporters are they're taking this event in. This is a political spectacle, it's public entertainment. It's civic entertainment, and the debates are on. We're going to find here that a lot of the debates are going to center on similar things. So I'm going to be repeating a lot of these themes that are focused on for each of the debates, as we go forward here, but it's important that we get a sense of how these all played out. Douglas leads off, charging Lincoln with wanting Illinois to become, "a Negro colony." Saying, "I do not regard the Negro as my equal." Douglas leans very heavily on these racial attacks against Lincoln, trying to stir up racial fear, excuse me, in the state of Illinois. He's using white supremacist attacks, using phrases such as what we heard earlier. "I believe this government was made by white men for the benefit of white men and their posterity forever, and I am in favor of confining citizenship to white men, men of European birth and descent, instead of conferring upon Negroes, Indians, and other inferior races." Douglas asked Lincoln a series of questions here, hoping to force him into a corner on these issues, such as would he advocate the repeal of the fugitive slave law? Did he oppose the interstate slave trade? Would he ban slavery in territories below the Missouri Compromise line? And would he ban further territory acquisitions unless slavery was prevented in them? Now when Lincoln rises, he oddly kind of dismisses Douglas's questions. Now in all likelihood, that's because Lincoln was not a very good off-the-cuff speaker. He had his notes. He had his prepared remarks, and he tried to stick to them. He would eventually address Douglas's questions, but he doesn't do that right away in the first debate at Ottawa. He goes on the defense saying, I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races, but he also notes that while he is not campaigning to introduce equality between the races, remember, 1858 Illinois. His campaign's dead if he says anything otherwise. "There is no reason in the world by the Negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Saying that we can debate -- or the equality of Blacks in the political sphere is one matter. Lincoln was sticking to his argument, according to natural law and the declaration. African-Americans were citizens of this country, and they deserved to be treated with basic equality. He attacks Douglas's idea of popular sovereignty as nothing less than the perpetuity and the nationalization of the institution of slavery. And this first debate was extremely, extremely negative. Both candidates were basically unloading all their best attack lines on the others that they had been honing throughout the campaign thus far. A very, very negative debate, but already, Lincoln is starting to garner attention from these debates. The Chicago Tribune wrote, "Who is this new man? You have a David greater than the Democratic Goliath or any other I ever saw." The second debate, the northern part of Illinois, Freeport. Lincoln leads off this debate, and he has a chance to address Douglas's seven different questions, answering them, trying to fend off these attacks from his Democratic opponent. It's worth noting here that Freeport, again, think about where the Republicans are Illinois, the northern part of the state. Do we think Douglas probably got a friendly reception in Freeport? No, one person in the crowd through part of a melon at Douglas. That's why we did let people bring melons in today to throw them at me here. Yeah, not a very friendly reception for Douglas there at all. A very hostile reception. He was jeered by the crowd, and he's having to fight his way through this, projecting his voice and making his arguments there. Now Lincoln poses his own questions to Douglas in Freeport. One of those questions is asking Douglas could popular sovereignty be used to prevent slavery from its expansion into territories and states? Now hold on a second here. How does that make sense? If Lincoln is saying that popular sovereignty is nothing less than spreading slavery West, why would he give Douglas a chance to say that's not true? Lincoln, in this question, known as the Freeport Question, is setting a political Catch-22 trap for Stephen Douglas. If Douglas says no, slavery could not be excluded in the territories, his campaign in 1858 is in deep trouble. If he says yes, popular sovereignty could lead to slavery been excluded in these territories, how is that going to play with southern Democrats who Douglas needs two years later in 1860? Lincoln had a brilliant legal mind. It was said that in a court case, if there were seven crucial points, Lincoln could concede six of them, knowing that without the seventh point, the first six didn't really matter all that much. He had a brilliant strategic mind for analyzing problems and thinking tactically on how to solve them. This Freeport Question is part of that. Lincoln said that he was "killing larger game. The battle of 1860 is worth 100 of this." He was hoping to alienate southern Democrats from Stephen Douglas, which, as we'll see later, is exactly what happened. But this debate, overall, Lincoln is doing quite well early on in these debates, establishing himself as a viable opponent for Douglas. The third debate, taking place in the deep southern part of the state, heavy Democrat area. A very pro-slavery part of Illinois. Douglas let off claiming that Lincoln was radicalizing politics, radicalizing the old Whig party, making it an abolition party, trying to push through his own ideas, stirring up strife, calling up insurrection with this house divided speech, and yet again here, we see this quote, "I hold this government was made on the white basis, by white men, for the benefit of white men in their posterity forever." Lincoln's arguments evolved as the debates progressed. Douglas kept hammering the same point over and over and over again. He uses this language in almost every single debate about the founding of the American government. Lincoln responds by saying that the Founding Fathers did not intend slavery to flourish but for it to be restricted, not expanding westward. And he presses Douglas on whether or not he would support federal laws protecting slavery in the territories. Douglas pivots and defends popular sovereignty once again. Again, the issues are pretty similar in these debates as they go back and forth. The fourth debate, Charleston, Illinois, in the eastern part of the state. Lincoln leads off, and he leads off with some language addressing these racial attacks that Douglas has been launching towards him. This is what Lincoln says early on in the debate. "I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about it anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races. That I am not, or have or have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people, and I will say, in addition to this, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality." Those are words that Lincoln historians have grappled with for generations. Those are very difficult words to hear from our 16th President on issues of racial equality, very difficult words to square. A couple key things to keep in mind. Lincoln is a product of his time. He holds similar racial attitudes to others in his time. He does not hold racial attitudes of our day today. It's also important to keep in mind that had he not addressed these attacks against him by Douglas, his campaign would have been in major trouble. Remember everything we talked about, about that context of Illinois in 1858. Not necessarily making an excuse for Lincoln saying these things but helping to explain why he was saying them and explain his own attitudes on this issue. Though his comments make us cringe, we have to remember the context of this, and that especially here in Charleston, he speaking in a heavy, former Whig area, one which though supportive of preventing slavery's spread, was not very friendly to African-Americans. This is a state, keep in mind, where laws had been passed preventing African-Americans from immigrating there. Lincoln reiterated that his official purpose was to oppose the Kansas-Nebraska act and oppose slavery, because it was morally wrong, and I think when we consider that together with Lincoln's comments on race, we can see that while he is still subject to the racial attitudes of his time, he is speaking out and saying that slavery is morally wrong, and it should be opposed input on the course of ultimate extinction. Douglas says he's glad he finally got Lincoln to make some comments on racial issues, though Lincoln didn't go far enough in denouncing African-Americans in Illinois, and the back and forth in Charleston centers predominantly on these racial issues, on these questions. Lincoln reiterating that slavery was wrong and should be restricted, while Douglas believes that's simply part of ordinary life, and this is a new wrinkle to Lincoln's argument, something which would occur more increasingly as the debates go on. Slavery was wrong. Lincoln believed slavery was wrong. Douglas thought it was just another political issue, not a matter of morality. The fifth debate in Galesburg, Illinois, October 7, 1858. Takes place at Knox College. Over 15,000 people in attendance. Douglas defends his positions on Lecompton Constitution, on popular sovereignty. Attacks Lincoln once again for radicalizing the Republicans, and he says the Chicago doctrine of Lincoln's declaring that the Negro and the white man are made equal by the Declaration of Independence and by divine providence is a monstrous heresy. That's another thing to keep in mind, Lincoln's opponent, Douglas, said that the thought that blacks and whites were equal at all was a monstrous heresy. He also noted that Lincoln was changing his message in certain parts of the state. Now there was some truth to that. Lincoln was tailoring his arguments to different parts of the state, thinking out where they would play fast. In that regard, you better believe Abraham Lincoln is a politician. Lincoln responds by saying that Douglas needed to prove that the founders of the country did not mean that all men were created equal. He cites Jefferson's belief in the injustice of the institution of slavery. He calls slavery a moral, social, and political evil, saying that he desired a policy that looks to the prevention of it is a wrong and looks, hopefully, to the time when, as a wrong, it may come to an end, and he also says that no one "logically can say that anybody has a right to do wrong." And here we see the debate centering on their central idea. What is democracy? Is democracy simply whatever the majority says, or is there a moral element to it? Is there a foundational element to protecting moral natural law? Lincoln has his best debate yet in Galesburg, and Douglas is starting to go downhill. Douglas's health was starting to fail. He was frequently intoxicated. He was a heavy drinker, and that was having an effect on Douglas, as well. And nationally, Republicans and Democrats are really taking attention and focus on this campaign, knowing that this is going to have a major impact on the coming presidential election in 1860. The sixth debate, in Quincy, Illinois. Another former Whig audience. The rest of the campaign is going to be playing out mostly across this middle part of the state here. Lincoln's opens up the debate, denies making different speeches in different parts of the states, and argues, once again, that slavery was a threat to the union because of its immorality, and it's a very smart argument to make here, because there's a lot of fans of Henry Clay here. A lot of Whigs thought that the biggest political goal was simply keeping this country together. Well, now, Lincoln is saying Douglas's popular sovereignty, we were told it was going to help keep the country together. If anything, it's tearing the country further apart. Look at Dred Scott. Look at the bloodshed in Kansas. Look at all of the strife. In fact, popular sovereignty is not doing what we were told. Both are essentially arguing on who is the greater threat to the union? They're trying to take the mantle of Herod re-Clay saying that they are the rightful heir, appealing to this former Whig audience. Lincoln, once again, arguing that Douglas was nationalizing the institution of slavery, and for Lincoln, all of this is building up to the seventh and final debate in Alton, Illinois on October 15 of 1858. Only a few thousand were in attendance there. This is the town were Lovejoy had been killed by a mob. The abolitionist, Lovejoy, had been killed in 1837. Douglas leads off, his declining health evident to everyone in attendance, claiming that once again, he was fighting for the proper American spirit of equality. Reiterating his arguments from throughout the campaign, blasting Lincoln with attacks, saying he was an abolitionist seeking equality between the races. Lincoln's response claimed that he was the rightful heir of Henry Clay, criticizing the Dred Scott decision, saying that the founding fathers intended for slavery to be restricted. And he centers on his most powerful argument of the entire debates. Slavery was wrong, and "Douglas, he, cannot say people have a right to do wrong. Slavery was a fundamentally wrong, and as such, a threat to the very basis of democracy. That is the real issue. That is the issue which will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles, right and wrong, throughout the world. They are the two principles that of his stood face-to-face from the beginning of time and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity, and the other, the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says you work and toil and earn bread, and I will eat it. No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of the king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by this fruit of their labor or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another. It is the same tyrannical principal." Lincoln's argument that slavery was morally wrong was an argument about the basis for democracy. If we're not all equal, how does democracy work? If there are superior and inferior classes in society, that is the divine right of kings, ladies and gentlemen. Slavery declares that there is an entire race of people that is inferior. You can't have a democracy unless there is equality. Accepting slavery was to accept dehumanization and a hierarchy of inferiority and superiority. Douglas's rebuttal to Lincoln simply rehashed his arguments from throughout the campaign, and the debates came to a close. For a few more weeks, the campaign continued, as both candidates struggle to get out their message. Election day came November 2, 1858. And another very important thing to keep in mind here, this is before the 17th amendment. Lincoln and Douglas aren't actually candidates on the ballot. When people vote in this election in November 1858, they're not voting for Lincoln or Douglas. They're voting for state party candidates, candidates for the state Senate, candidates for the state house, because it is the state legislature which elects of the senators. Another major obstacle, which Lincoln faced, in 1855, Illinois Democrats had redrawn districts to favor them. [ Background Discussion ] So it would make it very, very difficult for any member of this new Republican Party to get elected to the Senate. It took several days to be sure, but Lincoln knew by that evening that Democrats had taken the Illinois legislature based on how races were being called in the Whig belt in the center part of the state. Republicans won 35 seats in the house. Democrats won 40. Republicans won 11 in the Senate. Democrats won 14. Democrats had the legislature, 54 to 46, and when the legislature voted on the Senate, Stephen Douglas won by a vote of 54 to 46. So Douglas one, right? Well, he did, but what about the popular vote? The way the popular vote played out, the Republicans received more votes than Democrats did in this election. For house races, the Republicans received 190,468 votes. Democrats received 166,374, with Buchanan Democrats, a fractured part of the party, getting just under 10,000. In the Senate, just under 100,000 votes were cast. Republicans had just shy of 54,000. Democrats had just shy of 45,000. So Republicans won the popular vote in the Illinois house races, all added up together, and in Illinois, Senate races altogether, and being that Lincoln was the most notable Republican, we might make the argument that Lincoln had, in effect, won this popular vote against Stephen Douglas. But nonetheless, despite winning the popular vote, he did not win the election. This is something that, of course, has played out, time to time, on the national stage with presidential elections with the electoral college. That's essentially what we're seeing here in the state of Illinois. So Douglas was victorious. Or was he? Stephen Douglas soon learned that the debates had been a debilitating blow to his political career and his political standing. Lincoln had done significant damage to him. Soon after the debates, Douglas journeyed south on his way towards a vacation, and he found hostility from slaveholders. When he returned to Congress, he was removed from his chairmanship on the Committee on Territories. Prominent Southerners like Edmund Ruffin, Jefferson Davis, Judah Benjamin, were all vocally critical of Douglas, saying that in these debates against Lincoln, he had admitted flaws with popular sovereignty. He had admitted that he was not the friend that slaveholding Democrats thought he was. Edmund Ruffin called Douglas, "A great political scoundrel." And this Freeport question was used as a weapon against Douglas. Remember, this is a question that Lincoln posed to him in the second debate, asking whether or not popular sovereignty could be used to prevent the spread of slavery. When Douglas said yes, southern Democrats are learning, hey, this is something that might actually stop the spread of slavery. We didn't think about it in that regard. Maybe it's not such a great idea. Indeed, when Democrats met in Charleston, South Carolina in 1860, Stephen Douglas is the biggest national name vying for the nomination of the presidency, but he is not going to be the Democratic candidate, certainly not of the entire Democratic Party. One journalist noted that the Mississippians have the Freeport speech of Douglas with them on the convention floor, and they intend to bombard him in the convention with ammunition drawn from it. Lincoln's attacks on Douglas had worked. There was a second nominating convention in Baltimore, which gave Douglas the nomination of northern Democrats. Vice President, John Breckenridge, got the nomination of southern Democrats, and John C. Bell led a Constitutional Union party, hoping to find all the Whig support and the idea of the union in the face of this increasingly perilous crisis facing the country. And, oh, yeah, there's one more candidate in 1860. How did Lincoln respond to his defeat, defeat leading to ultimate success? Though it was not easy, he maintained his resolve, are ready to fellow Republicans, the fight must go on and "the cause of civil liberty must not be surrendered at the end of one or even 100 defeats." When Douglas was voted in in January, Lincoln told a fellow attorney, "It hurts too much to laugh, and I am too big to cry." But the debates had made him a national figure. They caught the attention of people all across United States. They were published, sold by the thousands, and these lead to Lincoln emerging on the national stage. In 1859, he and Douglas were campaigning again in Ohio on opposite sides of a political campaign. In early 1860, Lincoln was invited to the New York to deliver a speech at Cooper Union where he said, arguing against the westward spread of slavery, "Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, there to do our duty, as we understand it." And that's saying we have Lincoln's fundamental understanding of democracy. It's not like that makes right. It's not the will of 51% that says they can do whatever they want. It's right that gives the power, right that makes might. That fall, Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President of the United States. His reputation on known previously outside of Illinois and Indiana had exploded as a result of these debates, leading him to the highest office in the land. Lincoln himself noted that he was "accidentally elected President of the United States" because of "his having made a race for the Senate of the United States with Judge Douglas in the state of Illinois." For Stephen Douglas himself, he would die in June 1861, his health declining rapidly. For Lincoln, the man who debated Douglas across the state of Illinois saying that he was not abolitionist, that he simply sought to stop the westward spread of slavery, ends up becoming known as the great emancipator. Once he is president, once in the midst of this war, he sees an opportunity to strike down slavery. He issues his Emancipation Proclamation. Certainly, a progression, an evolution from his position in the campaign in Illinois, but it's just a few years afterwards that Lincoln signs the single most important presidential action in American history. Of course, we can, himself, only had a few more years to live. In that seventh of May, he made mention "when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent." Pictured here is Douglas's tomb in Chicago and Lincoln's tomb in Springfield. What is the last of significance of these debates? They were a turning point for Lincoln, making him a national figure. They were a turning point for the country, focusing in this debate on slavery. Now the memory of them sometimes suggests that these debates were the ancestor of our modern presidential debates. That's not really true. If you've watched one of the modern presidential debates, they really have nothing in common with the Lincoln-Douglas debates. As I noted earlier, it's these 30-second soundbites going back and forth. The Lincoln-Douglas debates were some serious material, such as what we covered here today. But these debates were so important because of their impact on the candidates becoming a millstone around Douglas's neck and boosting Lincoln to the presidency, but they were also a turning point for the nation, helping to narrow in this focus on what is democracy? What is the importance of this? The eternal struggle between these two principles, what is right? What is wrong? What is the basis of American democracy? And as we said at the outset, it's just five years that separates the 1858 Senate candidate Lincoln from the Lincoln who's here in Gettysburg. And he's talking about the same thing. Lincoln said on his way to Washington DC in February 1861, he stopped in Philadelphia, and he said, he has never had a political sentiment that was not based on the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence, Lincoln said, recalling Proverbs, was an apple of gold enshrined in a frame of silver, which was the Constitution. When Lincoln's here Gettysburg, what's the basis of his argument? What's the basis of his speech? Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. That's the starting point. That's the foundation of democracy, as he had argued five years before in Illinois. 38 years after the debate in Galesburg, Lincoln's son, Robert Todd Lincoln, journeyed back to Knox College, and he spoke of what this speech that his father gave, these debates that his father had taken part in, what they meant for the country. "The issues of 1858 have long been settled. My father called the struggle won between right and wrong. In spite of the great odds against him, he battled on, sustained by conscience, and supported by the idea that when the fog's cleared away, the people would be found on the side of right. He was right. And today, not a man can be found who would not resist the evil against which he protested. This should give us confidence in our own battles against evils of our own times. Now, as then, there can be but one supreme issue, that between right and wrong. In our country, there are no ruling classes. The right to direct public affairs according to his might and influencing conscious belongs to the humblest, as well as to the greatest. The elections represent the judgments of individual voters. Perhaps, at times, one vote can destroy or make the country's prosperity for 30 years. The power of the people by their judgments expressed through the ballot box to shape their own destinies, sometimes, makes one tremble, but it is in times of danger, critical moments, which bring into action the high moral quality of citizenship in America. The people are always true. They're always right, and I have an abiding faith that they will remain so." What Robert Todd Lincoln said, that's the argument his father made in 1858 in Illinois. It's the argument his father made here Gettysburg five years later in 1863, and without those debates, I don't think Lincoln ever finds is way here to Gettysburg. I want to thank you folks for joining us here this afternoon. Thank you for taking part in our lecture series, and if you have any questions, I'd be more than happy to answer them. Thank you. [ Applause ]



Douglas was first elected to the United States Senate in 1846, and he was seeking re-election for a third term in 1858. The issue of slavery was raised several times during his tenure in the Senate, particularly with respect to the Compromise of 1850. As chairman of the committee on territories, he argued for an approach to slavery called popular sovereignty: electorates at a local level would vote whether to adopt or reject a state constitution which prohibited slavery. Decisions had been made previously at a federal level concerning whether slavery was permitted or prohibited within certain states and territories. Douglas was successful with passage of the Kansas–Nebraska Act in 1854.

Lincoln had also been elected to Congress in 1846, and he served a two-year term in the House of Representatives. During his time in the House, he disagreed with Douglas and supported the Wilmot Proviso which sought to ban slavery in any new territory. He returned to politics in the 1850s to oppose the Kansas–Nebraska Act and to help develop the new Republican party.

Before the debates, Lincoln said that Douglas was encouraging fears of amalgamation of the races, with enough success to drive thousands of people away from the Republican Party.[4] Douglas argued that Lincoln was an abolitionist for saying that the American Declaration of Independence applied to blacks as well as whites. Lincoln called a self-evident truth "the electric cord… that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together" of different ethnic backgrounds.[5]

Lincoln argued in his House Divided Speech that Douglas was part of a conspiracy to nationalize slavery. He said that ending the Missouri Compromise ban on slavery in Kansas and Nebraska was the first step in this direction, and that the Dred Scott decision was another step in the direction of spreading slavery into Northern territories. He expressed the fear that the next Dred Scott decision would make Illinois a slave state.[6]

Both Lincoln and Douglas had opposition. Lincoln was a former Whig, and prominent Whig judge Theophilus Lyle Dickey said that he was too closely tied to the abolitionists; he consequently supported Douglas. But Democratic President James Buchanan opposed Douglas for his work to defeat the Lecompton Constitution which would have made Kansas a slave state, and he set up a rival National Democratic party which drew votes away from him.[7]

The debates

Lincoln-Douglas Senatorial Debates in 1858.
Locations in Illinois where Lincoln and Douglas debated. Green denotes debates between Lincoln and Douglas while purple denotes places where they spoke separately within a day of each other.

The debates were held in seven towns in the state of Illinois:

U.S. Postage, 1958 issue, commemorating the Lincoln and Douglas debates
U.S. Postage, 1958 issue, commemorating the Lincoln and Douglas debates

Slavery was the main theme of the Lincoln–Douglas debates, particularly the issue of slavery's expansion into the territories. Douglas's Kansas–Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise's ban on slavery in the territories of Kansas and Nebraska and replaced it with the doctrine of popular sovereignty, which meant that the people of a territory could decide for themselves whether to allow slavery. Lincoln said that popular sovereignty would nationalize and perpetuate slavery.[8] Douglas argued that both Whigs and Democrats believed in popular sovereignty and that the Compromise of 1850 was an example of this.[9] Lincoln said that the national policy was to limit the spread of slavery, and he mentioned the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 as an example of this policy, which banned slavery from a large part of the Midwest.[10] During the debates, both Lincoln and Douglas appealed to the "Fathers" (Founding Fathers) to bolster their case.[11][12][13]

The Compromise of 1850 allowed the territories of Utah and New Mexico to decide for or against slavery, but it also allowed the admission of California as a free state, reduced the size of the slave state of Texas by adjusting the boundary, and ended the slave trade (but not slavery itself) in the District of Columbia. In return, the South got a stronger Fugitive Slave Law than the version mentioned in the Constitution.[14] Douglas said that the Compromise of 1850 replaced the Missouri Compromise ban on slavery in the Louisiana Purchase territory north and west of the state of Missouri, while Lincoln said that this was false[15] and that Popular Sovereignty and the Dred Scott decision were a departure from the policies of the past that would nationalize slavery.[16][17]

There were partisan remarks, such as Douglas' accusations that members of the "Black Republican" party[18] were abolitionists, including Lincoln,[19] and he cited Lincoln's House Divided Speech as proof[20] in which he said, "I believe this government cannot endure permanently half Slave and half Free."[21] Douglas also charged Lincoln with opposing the Dred Scott decision because "it deprives the negro of the rights and privileges of citizenship." Lincoln responded that "the next Dred Scott decision" could allow slavery to spread into free states.[22] Douglas accused Lincoln of wanting to overthrow state laws that excluded blacks from states such as Illinois, which were popular with the northern Democrats. Lincoln did not argue for complete social equality, but he did say that Douglas ignored the basic humanity of blacks and that slaves did have an equal right to liberty.[23]

Lincoln said that he did not know how emancipation should happen. He believed in colonization, but admitted that it was impractical. He said that it would be wrong for emancipated slaves to be treated as "underlings", but that there was a large opposition to social and political equality and that "a universal feeling, whether well or ill-founded, cannot be safely disregarded."[23] He said that Douglas' public indifference would result in the expansion of slavery because it would mold public sentiment to accept it.[23] He said that Douglas "cares not whether slavery is voted down or voted up,"[23] and that he would "blow out the moral lights around us" and eradicate the love of liberty.

At the debate at Freeport,[24] Lincoln forced Douglas to choose between two options, either of which would damage Douglas' popularity and chances of getting reelected. He asked Douglas to reconcile popular sovereignty with the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision. Douglas responded that the people of a territory could keep slavery out even though the Supreme Court said that the federal government had no authority to exclude slavery, simply by refusing to pass a slave code and other legislation needed to protect slavery.[25] Douglas alienated Southerners with this Freeport Doctrine, which damaged his chances of winning the Presidency in 1860. As a result, Southern politicians used their demand for a slave code to drive a wedge between the Northern and Southern wings of the Democratic Party,[26] splitting the majority political party in 1858.

Douglas failed to gain support in all sections of the country through popular sovereignty. By allowing slavery where the majority wanted it, he lost the support of Republicans led by Lincoln who thought that Douglas was unprincipled. He lost the support of the South by defeating a pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution and advocating a Freeport Doctrine to stop slavery in Kansas where the majority were anti-slavery. Before the debate at Charleston, Democrats held up a banner that read "Negro equality" with a picture of a white man, a negro woman, and a mulatto child.[27] Frederick Douglass remarked on Lincoln's "entire freedom from popular prejudice against the colored race."[28] Stephen Douglas said that Lincoln had an ally in Frederick Douglass in preaching "abolition doctrines." He said that Frederick Douglass told "all the friends of negro equality and negro citizenship to rally as one man around Abraham Lincoln." He also charged Lincoln with a lack of consistency when speaking on the issue of racial equality,[29] and cited Lincoln's previous statements that the declaration that all men are created equal applies to blacks as well as whites.

Lincoln said that slavery expansion endangered the Union and mentioned the controversies caused by it in Missouri in 1820, in the territories conquered from Mexico that led to the Compromise of 1850, and again with the Bleeding Kansas controversy over slavery.[30] He said that the crisis would be reached and passed when slavery was put "in the course of ultimate extinction."

At Galesburg,[31] Douglas sought again to prove that Lincoln was an abolitionist because of his insistence upon the doctrine that "all men are equal". At Alton, Lincoln tried to reconcile his statements on equality. He said that the authors of the Declaration of Independence "intended to include all men, but they did not mean to declare all men equal in all respects."[32] He contrasted his support for the Declaration with opposing statements made by John C. Calhoun and Senator John Pettit of Indiana, who called the Declaration "a self-evident lie." Lincoln said that Chief Justice Roger Taney and Stephen Douglas were opposing Thomas Jefferson's self-evident truth, dehumanizing blacks and preparing the public mind to think of them as only property. Lincoln thought that slavery had to be treated as a wrong, and kept from growing.[32]

Lincoln used a number of colorful phrases in the debates. He said that one argument by Douglas made a horse chestnut into a chestnut horse, and he compared an evasion by Douglas to the sepia cloud from a cuttlefish. Lincoln said that Douglas' Freeport Doctrine was a do-nothing sovereignty that was "as thin as the homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death."[33]


1859 United States Senate election in Illinois

← 1852 January 5, 1859 1864 →
Stephen A Douglas - headshot.jpg
Abraham Lincoln by Byers, 1858 - crop.jpg
Nominee Stephen Douglas Abraham Lincoln
Party Democratic Republican
Electoral vote 54 46
Popular vote 211,124[34] 244,242[34]
Percentage 46.4% 53.6%

The October surprise of the election was former Whig John J. Crittenden's endorsement of Douglas. Non-Republican former Whigs comprised the biggest block of swing voters, and Crittenden's endorsement of Douglas rather than Lincoln reduced Lincoln's chances of winning.[35]

The districts were drawn to favor Douglas' party, and the Democrats won 40 seats in the state House of Representatives while the Republicans won 35. In the State Senate, Republicans held 11 seats and Democrats held 14. Douglas was re-elected by the legislature 54–46, even though Lincoln's Republicans won the popular vote with a percentage of 50.6, by 3,402 votes.[36] However, the widespread media coverage of the debates greatly raised Lincoln's national profile, making him a viable candidate for nomination as the Republican candidate in the upcoming 1860 presidential election.

Ohio Republican committee chairman George Parsons put Lincoln in touch with Ohio's main political publisher, Follett and Foster of Columbus. They published copies of the text in Political Debates Between Hon. Abraham Lincoln and Hon. Stephen A. Douglas in the Celebrated Campaign of 1858, in Illinois. Four printings were made, and the fourth sold 16,000 copies.[37]


In 1994, C-SPAN aired a series of re-enactments of the debates filmed on location.[38] The debate locations in Illinois feature plaques and statuary of Douglas and Lincoln.[39]


  1. ^ Nevins, Fruits of Manifest Destiny, 1847–1852, p. 163
  2. ^ Abraham Lincoln, Speech at New Haven, Conn., March 6, 1860.
  3. ^ Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 3.
  4. ^ Abraham Lincoln, Notes for Speech at Chicago, February 28, 1857
  5. ^ Speech in Reply to Senator Stephen Douglas in the Lincoln-Douglas debates of the 1858 campaign for the U.S. Senate, at Chicago, Illinois (July 10, 1858).
  6. ^ David Herbert Donald, Lincoln, pp. 206–210
  7. ^ David Herbert Donald, Lincoln, pp. 212–213
  8. ^ First Debate: Ottawa, Illinois, August 21, 1858
  9. ^ First Debate: Ottawa, Illinois, August 21, 1858
  10. ^ First Debate: Ottawa, Illinois, August 21, 1858
  11. ^ How Lincoln Bested Douglas in Their Famous Debates
  12. ^ The Founding Fathers and the Election of 1864
  13. ^ Abraham Lincoln: From Pioneer to President
  14. ^ Allan Nevins, Ordeal of the Union: Fruits of Manifest Destiny 1847–1852, pp. 219–345
  15. ^ Third Debate: Jonesboro, Illinois, September 15, 1858
  16. ^ First Debate: Ottawa, Illinois, August 21, 1858
  17. ^ Third Debate: Jonesboro, Illinois, September 15, 1858
  18. ^ First Debate: Ottawa, Illinois, August 21, 1858
  19. ^ First Debate: Ottawa, Illinois, August 21, 1858
  20. ^ First Debate: Ottawa, Illinois, August 21, 1858
  21. ^ First Debate: Ottawa, Illinois, Douglas quote, August 21, 1858
  22. ^ First Debate: Ottawa, Illinois, August 21, 1858
  23. ^ a b c d Debate at Ottawa, Illinois, Lincoln quote, August 21, 1858
  24. ^ Debate at Freeport, Illinois, August 27, 1858
  25. ^ Second Debate: Freeport, Illinois, August 27, 1858
  26. ^ James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 195
  27. ^ David Herbert Donald, Lincoln, p. 220
  28. ^ David Herbert Donald, Lincoln, p. 221
  29. ^ Charleston debate
  30. ^ Third Debate: Jonesboro, Illinois, September 15, 1858
  31. ^ Debate at Galesburg, Illinois, October 7, 1858 – These quotes were originally from a speech made by Lincoln at Chicago, July 10, 1858
  32. ^ a b Debate at Alton, Illinois, October 15, 1858
  33. ^ Debate at Quincy, Illinois, October 13, 1858
  34. ^ a b "IL US Senate 1858". OurCampaigns. Retrieved November 28, 2018.
  35. ^ Guelzo, Allen C. (2008). Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates That Defined America. pp. 273–277, 282.
  36. ^ Guelzo, Allen C. (2008). Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America. New York: Simon and Schuster. pp. 284–285.
  37. ^ Guelzo, Allen C. (2008). Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America. New York: Simon and Schuster. pp. 305–306.
  38. ^ "C-Span, Illinois re-enact Lincoln-Douglas debates History in the Re-making". tribunedigital-baltimoresun. Retrieved February 28, 2018.
  39. ^ "The Lincoln-Douglas Debates". Retrieved February 28, 2018.

Further reading

  • On January 1, 2009, BBC Audiobooks America, published the first complete recording of the Lincoln–Douglas Debates, starring actors David Strathairn as Abraham Lincoln and Richard Dreyfuss as Stephen Douglas with an introduction by Allen C. Guelzo, Henry R. Luce III Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College. The text of the recording was provided courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Association as presented in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln.
  • Jaffa, Harry V. (2009). Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln–Douglas Debates, 50th Anniversary Edition. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-39118-2.
  • Good, Timothy S. (2007). The Lincoln–Douglas Debates and the Making of a President,. McFarland Press. ISBN 978-0-7864-3065-9.

External links

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